Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Mar Mendiola, Essone, France
Translated from Spanish by Gwyneth Little & Hanny Ghazi
Photo: Jamie Sia Photography
Four months of wonderful breastfeeding until …
That Friday morning I woke up with a high temperature, a sore head and my body aching all over. “Ugh, feels like I’m coming down with flu,” I thought, but my mind didn’t want to confirm what my body was feeling and decided that the flu would just have to wait. We had planned to go to Orléans with another couple and their baby girl and I hadn’t the slightest intention of sabotaging our weekend.
Denying that I was ill didn’t stop me from wondering whether I could continue breastfeeding my baby girl. Since I was carrying who-knows-what virus, wasn’t I going to infect her? I began doing some online reading and found a bit of everything: both opinions for and opinions against continuing nursing when the mother is sick. The more I read, the more questions occurred to me.
I texted my questions to my La Leche League (LLL) Leader, who sent me various articles and reassured me. However, I felt very tired and one of my breasts was so painful that I couldn’t bear even the touch of my bra, but I thought that was a consequence of the flu and I didn’t want to take any medication. During the night when I was nursing my daughter, my husband asked if I had injured my breast somehow, and I saw that I had a bright red patch on it. We did a search on the Internet and realized that I was experiencing all the symptoms of mastitis.
My husband wanted us to see a doctor, but we live in a small, isolated town with no health services, so our only solution would have been to go to the emergency department of the nearest hospital (40 minutes’ drive from our house), and—with my temperature at 39.5°C—I didn’t feel like driving, I didn’t want to bring my daughter with me to the hospital, and who knows how many hours we would have had to wait. I decided I would just hold out until Saturday.
At around midnight, I had the bright idea of sending another message to my LLL Leader to tell her that I thought I had mastitis. I wasn’t really expecting any answer at that time of night, but she immediately took control of the situation, telling me that, in principle, mastitis did not need medical attention unless it persisted beyond a period of rest of up to 48 hours.
She explained that mastitis is a natural reaction of the body: the breast becomes congested because of milk that has accumulated and stagnated, the milk leaks into the tissues and causes inflammation. The body defends itself and demands rest by producing a fever. Therefore, it’s essential to keep the breast drained, either by feeding your baby or using a breast pump. My Leader also gave me some useful tips: applying warm compresses before offering my baby the breast and cold compresses, or even ice, after a feed to help deal with the inflammation, keeping myself well hydrated (see box below).
By Monday the symptoms had gone down, but I still didn’t feel very well at all. My Leader advised me to make an appointment with a health professional to check whether the blockage had triggered an infection that would have to be treated with antibiotics. A midwife examined me and told me basically the same as the LLL Leader had done. Luckily, she did not see any need to prescribe me any medication.
What I learned is that breastfeeding can present obstacles at any time, but if we have a support network to count on, they can be overcome and, as we nurse, we can continue to enjoy this indescribable connection with our children. La Leche League has provided me with this support network, for which I am grateful. I recommend to other mothers and mothers-to-be that they take part in meetings laid on by this organization.
If you have the symptoms: warm/hot, red, sensitive/painful area on breast with aching/fever/chills. What to do: empty breast, lots of rest: frequent breastfeeding and perhaps pumping or hand expressing too to keep the milk moving. Spend as much time as possible in bed or lying down resting or sleeping with your baby. Cold packs (e.g. frozen peas wrapped in a cloth) on the inflamed area or a heating pad, whichever provides relief. Over-the counter anti-inflammatory medication that your doctor approves. If no improvement within 48 hours, see your health care provider as you may require antibiotics for an infection.